Viewpoint: No more excuses

BY UNITED COALITION FOR RACIAL JUSTICE

Published February 13, 2014

Quick! When was the last time that the University of Michigan had a 10-percent Black student enrollment?

That was a trick question: the answer is “never.” But many may answer “before Proposal 2,” which reflects the mainstream University narrative on the current crisis in minority enrollment. The Proposal 2 narrative champions the University and attributes major setbacks in minority recruitment to the passing of the 2006 ballot initiative, which effectively banned race-based affirmative action in Michigan public institutions.

For example, according to a recent article on the #BBUM demands, President Coleman claimed that the administration has “both hands tied behind (its) back” and will “wait for the Supreme Court.” Proposal 2 has acted as an excuse for the administration to shield its poor record on diversity.

This narrative paints the administration as hamstrung by law and therefore unable to successfully create a diverse and inclusive campus. It spotlights the University’s Supreme Court affirmative action cases to portray the University as a leader in diversity rather than a place which has consistently lagged behind its so-called “peer institutions.”

Thus, this narrative depicts decreased minority enrollment as a new problem rather than a historical and enduring reality.

What has been framed as a singular cause and effect is actually a longer, two-part process: an initial drop in enrollment of underrepresented minorities from 1997-2006 and a second decline from the time of Proposal 2 to the present. While Black enrollment did drop significantly in the years immediately after Proposal 2 — from nearly 7 percent to under 5 percent in 2010, where it has remained ever since — it was preceded by an extenuated drop in the years prior.

When President Bollinger arrived, Black enrollment under former President Duderstadt’s Michigan Mandate had reached an institutional high of nearly 9 percent. This was the closest Michigan has ever come to the elusive 10 percent demand of the Black Action Movement in 1970.

But as the institutional commitment to diversity waned, minority enrollment followed suit.

As Proposal 2 came into effect, the nearly 9 percent high point of 1996 had already dropped to 6.8 percent in 2007, suggesting that changes before the implementation of Proposal 2 caused this initial drop. Since then, the University has proclaimed itself a warrior for affirmative action: In Provost Pollack’s university-wide e-mail, she reiterated that “Michigan has a proud history of fighting for social justice, including taking the fight to promote diversity all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” But again, this relies on the nearsighted, myopic view.

There are ways in which Proposal 2 has had devastating effects on underrepresented minority enrollment.

Latin@ enrollment has been a neglected topic because enrollment numbers have not noticeably dropped. However, its steadiness appears less reassuring when we take Latin@ state and national population growth into account. Between 2000 and 2010, Michigan’s population remained relatively constant, while the Latin@ population in the state grew nearly 35 percent. Yet that rise has yet to be reflected in admissions figures.

Perhaps the most silenced narrative of all is the one regarding Native American enrollment, where Proposal 2’s effects are most devastating. In 2009, 254 Native American students were enrolled at the University, a number that would face a 71-percent decrease over the three following years. In 2006, Native Americans comprised 1 percent of the total enrollment, 0.7 percent in 2009, and a mere 0.2 percent ever since 2010. As both of these examples show, Proposal 2 did have devastating effects on all underrepresented minorities, a side of the story that is often obscured by the mainstream narrative.

Immediately after the passage of Proposal 2 in 2006, President Coleman assured the 2,000 activists gathered on the Diag: “I will do everything that’s legal to help us attract minority students. But it’s already having a chilling effect.”

In reality, that “chill” was nearly a decade old then, and now approaches two decades.

So when Provost Martha Pollack admitted that the “percentage of underrepresented minority students on campus has fallen noticeably in the last few years,” we must ask ourselves: “Are they recycling the old Proposal 2 narrative of recent decline and a willing, but hampered, administration?” It has been nearly 20 years since the University made a true institutional commitment to diversity. It is time to move beyond equivocations.

Now is the time for a presidential mandate.

This article was written by members of the United Coalition for Racial Justice.